Prospects You Don’t Want As Clients

Article by C.J. HaydenIt sometimes seems in the game of marketing professional services that the only rule is to land the client at all costs. We spend an enormous amount of time and effort pursuing our prospects — tracking down the decision-maker, making sales calls, writing proposals, and following up over and over. But not every prospect is a good candidate for becoming a client. In fact, some of them can be downright detrimental to your business.

If you watch for early warning signs while you are wooing a prospect, you can often identify problem clients before they ever get a chance to hire you. Here are ten prospects who should probably never become clients.

1. “We can’t afford to pay you anywhere near what you’re asking. Will you work for a lot less?” Prospects who ask you to cut your price by 30% or more are not likely to value you as a professional. They’re just looking for an extra pair of hands, and don’t much care whose they are. If they want to have their work done by the lowest bidder, let them. Just don’t let it be you.

2. “I’ve hired several professionals in your field before, and none of them worked out.” It’s tempting to think that you might be the one who will save the day and succeed where others have failed. But prospects who complain that they can’t find good help are usually themselves the ones at fault. They’re either too demanding, unclear on their requirements, or not willing to make the changes required for success. You don’t want to become
the next person they complain about.

3. “We shouldn’t have to pay your full rate because we can give you lots of business in the future.” This may seem like a acceptable tradeoff at first glance, but consider the implications. You’ll be locked in to earning less for every project this client gives you, plus you won’t have those hours available to offer other clients more willing to pay what you’re worth. And far too often, prospects who request a “volume discount” never deliver on the volume.

4. “I know I haven’t returned any of your calls for a month, but now I need you to start work tomorrow.” Prospects who disappear and then resurface only when their need becomes a crisis will probably behave exactly the same way when they become clients. You don’t want to work for someone who constantly tries to turn THEIR lack of planning into YOUR emergency.

5. “We’d like to interview three recent references in the same industry as ours for whom you completed a project just like this one.” Requesting references is reasonable, but asking that they be an exact match can be a strong indication you are dealing with a perfectionist. When prospects meticulously question every detail of your expertise before hiring you, they may become clients who nitpick your deliverables in the same way.

6. “I know this isn’t the kind of work you usually do, but I don’t have anyone else to handle this for me.” When your appointment calendar is empty, it’s appealing to take any sort of work a prospect offers you. If it’s work you like to do and can do well, go ahead. But when you work on projects you don’t enjoy or lack experience in, they can sap your energy, distract you from your core business, and generate referrals for even more work of the wrong kind.

7. “We don’t have time to get your contract signed or cut a deposit check before you start work.” Don’t make the mistake of trusting a client to make good on verbal promises. Too many professionals can tell horror stories about completing many hours of work before realizing they weren’t going to get paid. Once you agree to begin work, you have lost your biggest bargaining chip. If the project is that urgent, rushing you a contract or check shouldn’t be a problem.

8. “It’s true that I increased the scope of the project by 50% but I expect you to do it for the same price you originally quoted.” Prospects who behave like this when you are still in negotiations will probably have even more unreasonable expectations later on. You may find yourself working for free when the budget runs out, just to satisfy their escalating demands.

9. “We aren’t willing to make any sort of commitment to you, but please keep those dates open for us.” It’s never a good idea to reserve time for a project that doesn’t yet have a budget, confirmed schedule, or necessary approvals. In reality, projects like these rarely materialize by the proposed date. If your prospect won’t commit to you with a contract or deposit check, you shouldn’t commit either.

10. “I’d like to meet with you again to talk more about what you can do for me.” Meeting with a prospect once is usually both necessary and productive. But when prospects ask for multiple meetings to hear your ideas before hiring you, they are getting your expertise for free. A second no-charge meeting makes sense if the topic is the details of your proposal or terms of your contract. But if the agenda is to pick your brain, either the client should pay or you should pass.

Prospects who undervalue and take advantage of us don’t deserve to become our clients. If we ignore the warning signs and allow them to hire us, they can consume our time without paying us, keep us trapped in underearning, and hold us back from finding clients who will truly appreciate what we have to offer.

It can be hard to let go of a prospect when they seem scarce. One of the best strategies to improve the quality of the clients you ultimately get is to have multiple prospects in your marketing pipeline at all times. With more prospective clients to choose from, you can afford to be selective. That way you can spend your energy pursuing only the best clients and leave the rest to the competition.

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Reader Comments

C.J. Your points are right on the mark.
Well written.

I’m a new business owner looking for clients and you really nailed it. This is very well written and would be of use to EVERY small business owner out there.

Thanks so much, Tom and Lucile! I’m glad you found this valuable.

Great tips CJ. Too many entrepreneurs waste a ton of time, energy & resources not knowing, or even worse knowing but not implementing, these points.

Thanks, Eric! I can tell you and I are on the same wavelength on this subject.